Mehdi Chung the Latte Art Champion
One of the world’s best latte artists hones his craft in Oakland.
Mehdi Chung’s winning design scored points for creativity, difficulty, speed, and execution.
Photo by Hawkeye Johnson
In a competition that would make even decaf drinkers feel jittery, Mehdi Chung—who works as the barista trainer and coffee-quality specialist for Oakland’s Mr. Espresso—steamed, poured, and finessed his way to first place at the Latte Art World Championship Open in Indianapolis in June.
A relative newcomer to the circuit, Chung beat out notable latte artists from around the globe in the three-day, 64-person “free pour” event—meaning the design comes solely from adding milk to espresso, and the surface of the drink can’t be drawn on or otherwise manipulated. Contestants have just three minutes in each round to deliver their best work to the judges.
“It’s super stressful,” says Chung. “There’s a lot of adrenaline going on in those three days.”
His winning design featured a technically demanding five-stack heart. Chung beat out longtime competitors—including the favorite, Um Paul of South Korea—for the title.
“On top of me being the new kid on the block, I kicked out the world’s best—the Michael Jordan of latte art,” says Chung, who hopes to defend his title at events in 2020. “That was a bigger deal than anything else.”
So how does one prepare for the World Series of the coffee community? Rather than training obsessively for months, like many other latte maestros do, Chung takes a Zen approach.
“I just try to get my mentality right and focus on myself. The last week is when I’ll bang out all of my latte art so I’ll be fresh and ready,” he says. “If I overtrain my latte art, I tend to overthink my game plan.” He also credits golf—another endeavor that requires patience, precision, and mental clarity—for strengthening his latte-art game (and his wrists).
Since Chung doesn’t work in a café, you can’t catch his award-winning creations in the wild—but both he and the Mr. Espresso team intend to remedy that. Chung plans to launch a website early next year to showcase his work and offer latte-art classes at Mr. Espresso’s Jack London Square location, so novices can work up from hearts to more intricate designs.